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McCain confronts AIDS protesters

Manchester, N.H. -- Republican John McCain's "town hall" meetings routinely are more freewheeling and provocative than the comparable events staged by other presidential candidates. McCain actually enjoys mixing it up with those who disagree with him. Today, though, he was confronted with a determined group of young protestors who simply wanted to shout at him to make their point.

More than 1,000 people -- potentially a good sign for McCain's hopes in Tuesday's primary -- showed up midday to hear and question him at a school gymnasium in Salem, N.H. But, The Times' Maeve Reston reports, moments into his opening remarks the protesters interrupted, waving signs that called for $50 billion in spending to combat AIDS.

After the crowd greeted their chants with boos, the demonstrators piped down -– prompting McCain to invite them to stay around and discuss the issue with him during the question-and-answer portion of his appearance.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a town hall meeting where I didn’t try to listen to everybody, that’s why, frankly, my friends, we're winning this campaign," he said (polls do show him on the rise).

The Q&A was not to be, however. A few minutes into the Arizona senator’s remarks, they resumed their chants -- “People with AIDS are dying; you’re not even trying.”

As they shouted, McCain staff members began escorting them from the room. And some McCain supporters returned rhetorical fire by shouting: “Mac is Back.”

McCain also delivered a parting shot: “You know, I’ve always been curious why people like you who live in a free and open society would disrespect one of the most fundamental parts of America, and that is the ability to take part in the conversation with people who aspire to [political] office. I’ll never understand it.”

The crowd applauded.

-- Don Frederick

Comments () | Archives (11)

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What did you expect from a man who appears to have oral cancer?

I was one of the protesters at McCain's town hall meeting today. The point was that we have in fact been apart of the conversation several times before. McCain, similar to most republican candidates, has not committed to spending money to combat HIV/AIDS. He says that he cares about it, but that he will not give aid to "corrupt governments." This way, he says no, but sounds as though he is saying yes. We are proposing that money should go towards on the ground efforts, ensuring that money is in fact given to the people who needed it the most.

And at the very end of the event, McCain did call on a member of our group, but as I was thrown out of his event, I cannot give the most accurate description of what was said. But he still has not agreed to spending money.

McCain's giggles and smirks, always expressed during times in which he is looking about for approval, appear to be signs of serious mental deterioration. I do hope that this is recognized by the people in New Hampshire. The illness of McCain's buddy, Lieberman, was not at first recognized by the people in Connecticut, and only came to public attention when he indicated that Israel would happily fight to the last American -- a clear sign of schizophrenia, manifested in his double-citizenship syndrome.

McCain is ignorant when it comes to AIDS. Some months ago they asked him about his views and he said he "didn't know where I stand on that".....the proceeded to ask one of his helpes to find any documentation on what he has said about it.

He seems to know a lot about dementia though as he is a constant source of it.

I think those "protesters" were disrespecting the process. Yelling, when the man is giving you a chance to speak with him afterwards, is simply unbecoming and will NOT win you any sympathy, or action, from anyone. As a Granite Stater I resent it and take it personally.

AIDS should be stopped, sure. We can all agree on that. However, you folks good very well have been cancer victims or heart disease patients. The point is, there are many different "special" interests, but one can't give any one of them special treatment, least of not John McCain. The fact is, corruption is a big issue in third world countries, that's not a "way" of saying no. I would expect my President to be wise in his dispensation of funds, especially an economic conservative like McCain. If you want pandering, then John McCain is NOT your man.

As much as I support the fight against HIV/AIDS, it is near impossible to get *into* some African countries to do ground efforts without "rewarding" government officials for visas, travel permits etc. So, in order to do good McCain will have to do some evil. Either way it's not really a win-win situation.

(As one of the those protestors) I would like to first say that we in no way wanted to offend Granite Staters. We in fact enjoyed our time there (those of us who were not from there) and were treated well. However, this was not the first time (nor will it be the last) that we have tried to engage Senator McCain on HIV/AIDS issues. Many of those protestors and others who stand with us, have taken part in many a John McCain town hall and he has skated or otherwise not answered the questions. When asked a question on Saturday (1 day earlier) regarding the Early Treatment for HIV Act or ETHA (legislation that would provide needed treatment and care to the most low income AMERICANS living with HIV) he claimed to not know specifics. When I know for a fact that months earlier in a South Carolina airport he was confronted by a colleague who mentioned it to him and he said "he would look into it", not to mention that as he left the Petersborough town hall, on Saturday he was handed an explanation of the legislation.

The point being that while you might look at our fight as "special interest", we are devoted to what we do. It is because of this devotion that we have engaged with the Senator by the conventional means, but this engagement only works if he participates openly and honestly. When we consistently have rhetoric and political dances given to us as political policy and from someone who wants to lead us... pardon us if we get tenacious and angry.

I would also put fourth that he still did not answer the question regarding his stance on ETHA. Could it be that he still doesn't know about it, if that is true please excuse us as we continue to remind him.

You know Mr Reeve, your group did not make a very good point. I, a common person looking at the news, sees you as a heckler who does not want to talk but to scream and not listen. AIDS research is important, but is it more important than cancer research? In the end, you are just another interest group. You want money to your cause just like everyone else. If you want McCain to respond to you. then be civi and follow his rules for his events. If you want to set up your own even then ivite him then he will abide by your rules of conduct. For a man of such possible importance, you shoudl respect him, lest he not respect you for your disrespect.

I was in the audience at the townhall where the protest occurred. I was more than anything curious as to why individuals would choose that tactic.And I think I now understand why -- even though the Senator promised to engage and answer the questions -- he left the question until the end, did not provide a microphone (when he had to all other questions), and was curt. Pehaps he was angry, but isn't that precisely the point of a townhall - to provide a forum for discussion and not just "toot your horn"?

After McCain's performance, I do not believe he knows how to handle disagreement and cannot create a broad sector of support.

Notice the old man never even addressed the concerns of the protesters. McCain could have even after they were gone but knew his audience didn't give a fig, a portent of his concern about AIDS if he ever was sit in the Oval Office.

John McCain Rally, Disgusted comments

Today I am moved by two completely different experiences related to being HIV positive. I write this with raw emotions, but by humanizing this feeling I hope you too will become disgusted and make your voice heard. Please, take a moment to read this.

First, My name is Tom Donohue, I am the 28 year old founder of a national HIV awareness organization called Who’s Positive. I feel compelled to share these stories with you today.

Today I went to my infectious disease doctors office for an appointment, see I too am HIV positive, so these stories had a great impact on me. While sitting there I noticed an older man sitting in a chair it was oblivious that he was not feeling well. His head was hunched over and appeared drained. Then something happened to me that honestly affected me like no other moment has since being diagnosed in 03. The man began to stand with the assistance of someone else. What frightened me was his look, the way we locked eyes together as if it was saying the end is near. I’m not one to really read ones eyes or facial expressions but this, this truly frightened me and brought tears to my eyes. The man looked at me as frail as one could be and I immediately saw fear. He looked at me as though he knew he was soon to meet his maker, that he had no more fight in him that with the help of others he would barely get out of the chair make his way into one of the rooms to face an admittance to the hospital where he may never return home, where he’d never see his family again, and I, I was the new generation of this fight against HIV/AIDS, that I have the ability to make a difference. In my four plus years of working among people who are living and dying with HIV/AIDS, never had I come so close, so intimately close to death with someone without even saying a word. I sat there in my chair after he was assisted out of the room to sit and think. Hoping that I would never have to go through such an experience, wishing that my family would never see me like that I sat back and feared for my own well being. I’ve thought about this man all day, I don’t know his fate, I hope he is in peace, I hope he is strong wherever he is, at home, in the hospital or with his maker, I just know that with the look in his eyes I’ll never forget why I reach out to my peers, why I help to humanize HIV, why I hope that others can understand that this can happen to others, to anyone. One moment of passion of intimacy of irresponsibility not only changed my life but the lives of so many around me, today a face, a face of someone I never seen before affected me in a way which will give me passion to continue on this mission, I share this story because I hope it too gives you a mission, to understand that your voice, your guidance, your expression can too make a difference and to never give up the fight.

On this same note, let me talk about a disgusting comment that I heard through a YouTube video today. It happened at an McCain debate, some very dedicated individuals interrupted a John McCain stump speech raising signs and yelling “People with AIDS are Dying and your not even trying”. Some may see this as rude, but it was successful, it brought a very needed topic to the forefront, directly to the face of a very influential presidential candidate. I often get frustrated that the media can cover news about a cop that is under the investigation of a disappearance – granted to the families of that person appreciate the attention for it brings attention and pressure on the agencies investigating it, but when tens of thousands of people are being infected with HIV/AIDS and some of them are on waiting lists are dying because there is no funding available to help them get on much needed, and very expensive HIV medications I wonder why HIV/AIDS is only being discussed on World AIDS Day, you see and banner all day on the networks “World AIDS Day 2007” but then on December 2 the banners are gone and the story waits until the following year simply to discuss what should constantly be discussed throughout the year. Well anyway, as these ‘birddoggers’ as they are called, interrupt and are ushered out of the room, peers of mine, fellow American citizens respond to them saying “Not Soon Enough” as if those living with HIV/AIDS are not dying soon enough – check it out for yourself… another man went on to say “You know what they need to do to them people? Use some of that uhh advanced interrogation techniques on them” – as if they who were simply trying to bring to the forefront a much needed issue that affects Americans in every state were some mongrels that needed humiliation and torture. Granted they interrupted a speech, of an influential presidential candidate, but wouldn’t you do what ever you could if you, yourself saw the eyes of that man I talked about above try to get better assistance and medical care, or if it was someone you loved or cherished who was positive waiting to get medications on some waiting list, I personally applaud the conviction and dedication of those who stand and use their voice for people like that man I talked about, its them who help bring much needed attention to this cause, directly to the faces of those who make the decisions – rather than meeting with some staffer who takes every issue up they took it to the candidate, they got it in the news, and brought attention to a much needed deadly virus right here in these United States of America, a country with one of the largest infections of HIV/AIDS in the world.

To Mr. McCain who replies after they are escorted out “You know, I’ve always been curious why people like you who live in a free and open society would disrespect one of the most fundamental parts of America, and that is the ability to take part in the conversation with people who aspire to [political] office. I’ll never understand it.” well, its because people like the older man I talked about above who are dying from HIV/AIDS and need your attention and leadership and he and I are lucky to have people who do speak up, its not disrespectful it is passion, its desire, and need to recognize and execute change to make a difference in this fight against HIV/AIDS, guess who can do that, You. Now wonder why they do it.

Thank you Mr and Ms birddoggers for representing me, my friends and people I love who are infected with HIV/AIDS I am sure my new friend above who I will think about for years to come appreciates your voice being heard since his by now may be… silenced.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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